Tracing the Mohicans in Berkshire County, beginning in Stockbridge

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Anyone interested in the first settlers of Berkshire County can uncover plenty of information and many significant places, with a little digging: for a start, walk down the Main Street of Stockbridge. An early map of Stockbridge, dating back to when the town was called ‘Indiantown’, shows the ‘meddow’ and house lots along the Main Street, as they were laid out in the 1730s. The lots belonged to names like Wafunkomeel, Unipacheanuk, Bocchus, Weequinheegomeek, Wanompee, Naunauneekanuck, Pahquanapeet. Stockbridge began as a Mission, founded to teach the Mohicans and other local Native Americans reading, writing, and Christian doctrine. John Sergeant founded and led it until his death. His son went with the Mohicans when they lost their land, and left New England. After years of travel and refuge among other peoples, the largest group of Mohicans now live on the Stockbridge-Munsee Reservation in Wisconsin. The Trustees of Reservations run the Mission House, also on the Main Street. The Mohican settlers of Stockbridge built some houses in the European style, according to Barbara Allen, curator of the Stockbridge Library Association historical collection. The first meeting house stood where Congregational Church is today, but closer to the road, where the children’s chimes are. The Mohican influence still shows in place names too. The intersection of Route 183 and Route 102 is called Larrywaug, for example. Larry is Lawrence Lynch; ‘waug’ is Mohican. The Stockbridge Library’s Mohican collection reaches from 1700s to two days ago, she said. The library has replicas of deerskin clothing, bark covered frame houses, a canoe, basketry and other crafts, made by Ken Minter, working with former curator Polly Pierce. It has trade pieces: beads, a beaver hat. Local people have donated stone tools, shown with pictures of modern tool equivalents: chisel, knife, drill. Many have also brought in arrowheads. Adults will come and ask to see the arrowhead they found and donated when they were children, Allen said. She pointed out a a braided coil of sweet grass that she brought back from a trip to the Stockbridge-Munsee Reservation last year. She drove through Stockbridge, Wisconsin: “It has the most beautiful soil I have ever seen in my life.” Sweet grass grows wild in very few places, she said, and burns to produce one of four sacred smokes. The others are cedar, sage and Indian tobacco. Sweet grass is burned for health and for luck, in ceremonies and in sweat lodges. The Mohicans built primarily with wood, but underground stone chambers that may have been sweat lodges still exist in Stockbridge, East Lee, Washington and Richmond. David McAllester, a retired musical ethnologist living in Monterey, describes them in an article he wrote as part of a series for the Monterey News between 1981 and 1994. He discovered the sweat lodges in a New England Archeology publication, in 1992. A handful of tobacco is carefully spread in the case, by the stone tools. A couple of years ago, members of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohican Nation’s Tribal Council visited the library. Allen said she asked them to look at the display and tell her what they thought. They asked whether they could bless it. They spoke over it in English and Algonquian, and placed the tobacco there. The library has two collections of documents relating to the Mohicans. The Stockbridge Indian study collection brings together xeroxes of papers in the library’s various collections and in other collections. It catalogs secondary sources: term papers, reports. Several collections in the library have documents relating to the Mohicans, Allen said. A librarian organizes books by topic; an archivist organizes papers by the writer or makers of the papers and follows the order they used. The Sergeant collection, for instance, has a great deal of writing about the Mohicans. Researchers have to root through likely collections. Allen said when she wanted to create this collection, two or three years ago, she did not have the background to do it herself. The Stockbridge-Munsee gave her a grant to fund bringing someone in. The library made two copies of every document. The second set are in the museum on the reservation. The Stockbridge Indian collection, on the other hand, deals with original documents: published accounts, diaries, deeds, current reports of Tribal affairs, copies of the Mohican News, the paper put out on the Stockbridge-Munsee Reservation. People on the reservation visit the Berkshires regularly. The library also has photographs of members of the Stockbridge-Munsee on their last visit. One man came to the library and said members of his family had visited in 1950. The library had pictures, including his wedding picture. He identified the guests for them. Allen has read through primary documents from the 1730s as well. She has seen letters that talk about the crown telling the Indians that they should set up a proprietorship, as the white settlers did. She has calls to meetings on file. The early Stockbridge government, equivalent to board of selectmen, had both Mohican and white members, she said. “It was a question: what language should the call to meeting use?” Both collections have printed guides with a book and folder list. Besides these documents, the library also has books on the subject. McAllester donated many of them. He comes to the library each year to give a program on Indian music for the Stockbridge fourth - grade. The students dance and sing, and make dioramas to display in the library museum, Allen said. The Stockbridge-Munsee recommend two histories: Shirley Dunn’s The Mohican World and Patrick Frazier’s The Mohicans of Stockbridge, Allen said. The library has both, as well as a history by Dorothy W. Davids, the tribe’s historian. She writes regular column for the Mohican News. Allen also brought out Electa Jones’ Stockbridge Past and Present, a history of the Mission. It is, she said, very much written from the point of view of a white gentlewoman in 1854, but there were primary sources available in her day that are long gone now. Jones cites lengthy passages from a lost account of the Mohicans written by a Mohican, Hendrick Aupaumut, in the 1700s. The Stockbridge Library opened in 1864, and as early as 1865, the board of directors took steps to protect the history of town. They collected sermons and writings, Allen said: a 1754 edition of Jonathan Edwards’ Freedom of Will , writings of Catharine Sedgwick . . . . They also had a collection of stuffed birds, which the library has since gotten rid of. The library built an addition in 1938 to house its collections. The Historical Collection has always had a curator, she said. The first two held the job for 30 years each; she has 26 more years to go. Other sites in South County Further on down the Stockbridge Main Street stands an Indian Burial Ground, past the Town Hall and the Church. In it sits “a rough hewn obelisk with a plaque” dedicated to the Mohicans, Allen said. “You will see mementos left there — feathers, beads — people do visit.” Further on, there is the graveyard where Sergeant is buried, with Mohicans who joined the church. The statue over the door of the Plain School is probably the Mohican Chief Konkapot. He also appears on a marble fountain in Lee. Konkapot Brook, where the beavers are, runs along along Ice Glen Road. The Housatonic River has the Mohicans’ footprints along the whole length of it. Perhaps the best known print now is Canoe Meadows, the Berkshire Sanctuary land, so named because it was once a canoe launch site. The Berkshire Museum holds a summer camp there. Campers learn to shape a dugout canoe, to sing and drum; they learn history. McAllester has written about Mohican clothing and shoes in the Berkshire Museum collection, richly decorated with porcupine quill work. The Museum does not have an exhibit focused on the Mohicans now, but it has a room reserved for school groups that contains Mohican artifacts. The Mohawk and Mohican Trail For further understanding, take a walk in the woods. Lauren Stevens has been recreating the Native American trail joining the Hudson and Connecticut Rivers, approximately 100 miles of walking, since 1992. It began with a winter study course at Williams College. Stevens’ students looked at the feasibility of reopening or rebuilding the trail,which they took from a map by David L. Costello. Costello’s map showed various routes that led to the Mohawk Trail, the highway Route 2. The map also traces what he believed to be the original route, the Native American Route. This trail was not permanently blazed. The Mohicans and others who used it described it to each other in a series of landmarks. In early writings though, Stevens said, people remembered seeing marks Native Americans had made along the trail. It led from Greenfield or the Connecticut River over the Hoosic, into North Adams and Williamstown. Stevens worked with the Hoosic River Watershed Association on the Berkshire end of the trail. The Hoosic River Watershed stretches from North Adams to Hudson. On the other side of the Hoosic, the trail follows Deerfield River. The Deerfield River Watershed Association and the Appalachian Mountain Club got involved. They applied for a Federal Transportation Grant. In the 1990s, all Federal Transportation funding included strong element of alternative transportation: hiking, biking, railroad. These groups started at the eastern end, reopening an old trail along the Deerfield River. They finished that stretch in 1997, Stevens said. They held two dedications. Tribal Council members and the spokesmen of six or seven tribes came: the Konawonqua of Quebec, who have ties to Deerfield, and the Mohicans came, among many others. They blessed the project, he said. “It was thrilling.” The Mohawk and Mohican trail effort hired a supervisor, Joyce Muktarian from Charlemont, to oversee the trail reopening. For more than seven miles, it runs along Route 2; they could not figure out how to get off-road through Charlemont. At Mohawk Trail State Forest, it runs up onto the ridge behind the campground. Here, their trail and the original trail absolutely correspond. There are a number of ways up to the ridge though, and theirs may not be the same. At the end of the ridge, the trail pauses for the Todd Mountain overlook and a view of the whole Deerfield Valley. It is heavily used, Stevens said. He never goes by without seeing cars in the parking lot at the trail head. Historic Deerfield gives walks along the trail. In the Berkshires, it becomes a different trail and a different grant. Stevens is working now on the leg from North Adams to Williamstown. On the Berkshire side of Mohawk State Forest, the trail has incorporated South County Road, a gravel road that is not plowed in winter. It comes out on Striker’s Road, near the Western Summit cabins and store in North Adams. The trail takes a more direct route than Route 2 from here and cuts off hairpin turn, running very close to the original trail. It takes East Main Street, another gravel road, into town. The route from North Adams to Williamstown will be a continuation of the hiking trail and of the Ashuwillticook bike trail. It will begin where Mayor John Barrett III plans to put in a new park, between the Porches and MASS MoCA. This past spring, students in another Williams College class studied this part of the trail. From Williamstown, the trail would continue to the Vermont border, through Pownal, and follow the Hoosic to the Hudson river. Stevens has not examined this leg yet. It would be a walking trail, if not a bike trail. He knows of some abandoned railroad tracks in Hoosic Falls, N.Y. it could follow. The trail would head up through Loch Four, Canal Park, Skatticook, where there is a well-known Native American meeting site that has never been excavated, and Still Water. Among its possibilities, the Mohawk-Mohican trail runs east to west, and most long distance trails run north to south here. “You can create loops,” Stevens said, with the Taconic Crest Trail, or the Pecumtuk Trail. The Mohawk-Mohican Trail intersects a range of historical places. A trail goes up from Still Water to the Saratoga Battlefield, for instance, that Benedict Arnold used to pick up reinforcements, following Ethan Allen’s quest to take over Fort Ticonderoga. The original trail was a trade route. The Mohicans settled most of Berkshires. They had hunting camps here, Stevens said. They kept more permanent settlements in the richer, warmer land along the Hudson River. The trail’s history has not always been peaceful, though Thoreau walked it. The Berkshire militias marched over the Mohican-Mohawk trail to Bennington during the American Revolution. The trail was used for the provisioning of Fort Massachusetts during the French and Indian War. The event that named the Mohawk Trail, the highway, was as bloody. Before the Europeans settled Deerfield, the Pocumtuk Indians farmed the land. They invited many tribes for a peace conference, Stevens said. At the end of the conference, after several days of talk, a group of young, hot-blooded Pocumtuks attacked the Mohawk delegation. That winter, the Mohawks came in force and cleared out the Pocumtuks. In the 17th century, he said, the Mohawk were the greatest fighting force on the continent. He added that Mohawk is not what these people call themselves, but what other peoples called them. The Mohawk were part of the Iroquois confederacy, and the Mohicans were Algonquian speakers. The Mohawk competed for and eventually controlled trade with the Dutch and then the British in northern New York state. When the Europeans came to what is now Deerfield, they found beautiful farmland and no one to claim it, Stevens said. They named the trail in honor of the tribe that cleared the way for them — also the tribe that fought with them against the French in the French and Indian war. The Mohicans sided with the French. Farmers, plowing their fields, walking behind their teams of horses would take along a cigar box to hold any artifacts they turned up, Stevens said. They found arrowheads, bullets, cannon balls. Today’s farmers do not walk behind their tractors, and many artifacts of the Mohicans and their neighbors are hidden in private collections, or undug. In South County in 1994, the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company put a new gas line through the Kampoosa bog, near the Mass. Pike and the Marian Brothers’ land in Stockbridge. Mitchell Mulhollandof Becket, an archaeologist from the University of Massachusetts Archeological Services, conducted a dig in the area first, Stevens said. He found the remains of Mohican dwellings: the remains of wood in post holes, packed earth, ash, bone, tools. He took out threatened artifacts, and covered over the rest of the site. There are archeological sites along the Deerfield River, and a few along the Hoosic, he said. Sand Springs and Riverbend Farm in Williamstown were Native American camps too. They came there for the mineral waters.

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